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Our Rockstar Nursery Staffers!

Dear St. Luke’s,

Happy new Advent season!

I have been noticing, of late, how gifted our current nursery staff is, and how connected they are with our parish children. We are so lucky to have them, and I thought it might be nice to introduce them to you with a bit more complexity. Here are brief bios on our current frequent staffers. I encourage you to say hello when you see them, and to ask questions about parts of the stories that interest you!

Danielle:

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Hello, I’m Danielle! I’m from the teeny tiny town of Bad Axe Michigan located in the thumb of the mitten. I grew up in one of the (at the time) 7 rural schools in our county. This experience of going to school with less than thirty kids between the grades of kindergarten through eighth grade was fairly unique, to me and has had a large impact on how I have grown. While I love working in groups, I prefer when the groups are tight knit and feel more like family than anything else. I think that’s why I love working at the nursery so much. Not only have I become close with my co-staffers, but I’ve become very close with the children and the church body. It feels wonderful to enter a place and feel so at home. Everyone smiles and greets you and only wishes the best for you. It makes me feel almost like I’m back in my rural school setting.

I’m attending Western Michigan University. I’m hustling through the final year of my undergrad as a double major in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies. I will be attending Western’s Graduate school next fall to achieve my Masters level in Sociology. I hope to work in the field of sexual assault as a prevention advocate, either working with a nonprofit or working with a research company on developing advocacy programs.

A few fun facts about me: My last name really is Snow. I love having this last name until the holiday seasons are over…come January a lot of people become sick of hearing my last name and I tend to change my introduction to just my first name at this time. I started my own organization on Western’s campus centered on intersectional feminist ideologies, and we have been around for almost 3 years now. I absolutely love films. I could watch movies all day every day if I had the opportunity to!

Haley:

HaleyBio

Background: I am the oldest of five kids, so, taking care of kids is just something I’ve always done! As soon as I became old enough, friends and family knew I had plenty of experience so I started babysitting. From there, I’ve held a range of positions, most involving childcare. I’ve taught Sunday School, art camp, figure skating lessons, and provided childcare at various events. Additionally, I have nannied for several families.

Education: I moved from Minot, ND to attend Kalamazoo College about three and a half years ago. I’m currently in my senior year, and I’m an English major with an American Studies concentration. I will be graduating in the spring. I plan to attend law school this fall (I am currently in the middle of the arduous application process) with hopes of becoming a family lawyer.

Quirky facts: I was a competitive synchronized figure skater at WMU my freshman and sophomore years. In my sophomore year, Nationals were held right here in Kalamazoo, and we ended up taking fourth with our best skate of the season! And I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for six months where I studied European literature.

Why I love St. Luke’s: Working here allows me to engage with the community of Kalamazoo in a much different way than I usually do as a college student. I have a chance, every week for three hours, to hang out with the coolest little humans and not think about school or homework or grocery shopping or paying bills and for that, I am so truly thankful!

Kenzie: 

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Hi, I am Mackenzie Prill, but I prefer to go by Kenzie. I am a junior at Western Michigan University, and I am majoring in Psychology and dual minoring in Integrated Holistic Health and Social Work. I plan on going to Graduate School to become a psychologist and then go back to my hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan where I hope to open a practice there someday.  I am a native of Davison, Michigan, but moved to Bad Axe in the 5th grade. After high school graduation, I decided to attend WMU because of their renowned Psychology Program, and to be a part of the Bronco Marching Band. I knew I wanted to be a psychologist early on because I’ve always wanted an occupation where I could help people, just like my parents. I am a very family-oriented person and am thankful that my family has always been there for me. My family consists of my father, the Honorable Gerald Prill, my mother Yvonne, my two sisters Lauren and Sydney, and my little puppy princess Bella Marie. As you can tell, my father is drastically outnumbered by females, but that’s the way I like it. My ultimate goal as a psychologist is to be there for others who don’t have a strong support system and to listen to them when others will not.

An interesting fact about myself is that on the day that I was born my two great-grandfathers passed away that exact day just moments after I was born. My birthday, January 13, was also my great-grandma’s birthday. My great-grandparents are all gone now, but I know that they are my guardian angels.

I love working at St. Luke’s because of the wonderful atmosphere. Everyone here is so kind and always has a smile on their face. I love walking in and instantly feeling warmth, love, and genuine compassion. I am grateful for meeting such wonderful people and having had our paths cross. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of such an amazing community.

Taylor:

TaylorBio

Hi, I’m Taylor Raaymakers; I am the Nursery Supervisor at St. Luke’s.  I am the oldest of four girls and am incredibly close to my sisters and parents.  I am originally from Caledonia, Michigan; I graduated high school in 2014; and I am currently a student at Western Michigan University.  I am studying behavioral psychology.  My 5 year plan includes graduating from Western Michigan University next fall and then attending *hopefully* the University of Nevada Reno to receive a masters in behavior analysis. After that I hope to be working in a center for autism.  I enjoy working at St. Luke’s very much and love all the little kids and how there’s never a dull moment in the nursery!  Lastly, a fun fact about me is I play percussion.  I grew up around music, and actually my parents met at band camp, so you could say we are a very musical family.

 

 

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Fall Formation Offerings

Each Sunday of this program year will feature a children’s formation offering and two options for adults: a session of an ongoing multi-week series and a standalone forum led by someone in the community whose work inspires us.

These offerings were chosen for their ability to help us remember our theme this year: that all really does mean all.

We look forward to learning in community with you each Sunday, 11am to 12N!

Sunday, September 17th:
Stand-alone: Lighthouse Project (led by Fr. Randall)
Stand-alone: Reception to Celebrate Kathleen Tosco and Bob Small!
Children: Doing Christianity Locally I (led by Deacon Greg)

Sunday, September 24th (St. Michael & All Angels):
Series: Doing Christianity Locally I (led by Renee Maria Lee-Gardner)
Stand-alone: “Be SMART for Kids” Gun Safety (led by Rick Omilian)
Children: Doing Christianity Locally II (led by Linda Snyder & Sara Flores

Sunday, October 1st:
Animal Fair!

Sunday, October 8th:
Series: Doing Christianity Locally II (led by Renee Maria Lee-Gardner)
Stand-alone: The Hispanic American Council
Children: Doing Christianity Locally III (led by Linda Snyder & Sara Flores)

Sunday, October 15th (St. Luke’s Day):  
Adults: Stewardship Brunch
Children: Brunch, followed by The Holy Spirit I (led by Brian Lonberg)

Sunday, October 22nd:
Series: On the Seven Week Advent I (led by Fr. Randall and Carrie Groenewold)
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: The Holy Spirit II (led by Brian Lonberg)

Sunday, October 29th:
Series: On the Seven Week Advent II (led by Fr. Randall and Carrie Groenewold)
Stand-alone: All Souls’ Roundtable (led by Renee Maria Lee-Gardner)
Children: The Holy Spirit III (led by Brian Lonberg)

Sunday, November 5th (All Saints’ Sunday):
Baptismal Reception

November 12th (Advent 1):
Adults: Seven-Week Advent Wreath Making!
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism I (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, November 19th (Advent 2):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series I: The Catechism
Stand-alone: Sara Morley LaCroix, Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism II (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, November 26th (Advent 3):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series II: The Catechism
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism III (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, December 3rd (Advent 4):
Bishop’s Visit!

Sunday, December 10th (Advent 5):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series III: The Catechism
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism IV (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, December 17th (Advent 6):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series IV: The Catechism
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism V (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, December 24th (Advent 7):

Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 31st (Feast of the Holy Name):
New Year’s Eve!

Accessibility & the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp

Dear friends,

Preparations are underway for our third annual St. Luke’s Music Camp, which will be held from Monday, July 10th through Friday, July 14th. As most of you know, our camp offers children the opportunity to learn about music history, culture, and composition. They sing, study some of the great composers and periods of music history, and explore cultures from around the globe. Campers develop rhythmic ability on Orff instruments and are introduced to basic concepts in music theory. They become more aware of themselves, their communities, and the music at hand by participating in various art and mindfulness projects. In a follow-up essay to this one – which we plan to publish in the next week – you’ll find details about this year’s thrilling theme and structure. Stay tuned for that! But for now we wanted to share some details about this year’s focus on accessibility.

In “The Families that Can’t Afford Summer,” KJ Dell’Antonia asserts that only 7% of Michigan families fits the traditional stereotype, and that 35% are single-parent led. Students have a 10- to 11-week break each summer, yet only a quarter of American families are able to have one parent home. This means that three-quarters of American families have to find care for 440 hours per child. Because of the impossibility of meeting such an expense, many parents are forced to leave children home alone. In one of far too many examples, a South Carolina mom was sent to jail for leaving her 9-year-old to play in a park while she worked.

According to the Michigan Wage Calculator created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single parent working full-time for minimum wage earns $17,680. For that parent to meet the full living expenses for her/himself and two children (housing, healthcare, nutritious food, childcare, transportation, et cetera) s/he would need to earn $56,693: more than three times our minimum wage. Additionally, the average American one-week day camp costs $304, which is only $34 short of a full week of minimum wage page. This clearly means that for many, camp is not an option.

Additional barriers for summer camp access include the fact that most summer day camps run either in the morning or the afternoon, while most full time jobs require employees to be present for nine consecutive hours with the exception of a lunch break. Families without a stay-at-home parent often simply cannot coordinate mid-day pick-ups and drop-offs. And many families rely solely on public transportation, which makes three hour camps a logistical impossibility.

Also disconcerting is the impact of inconsistent summer care over academic achievement. Dell’Antonia contends that while “most kids lose math skills over the summer…low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. She concludes that this regression accounts for nearly “half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.”

Finally, a disproportionate number of families living in poverty have experienced trauma, which is itself a barrier to both enjoyment and education. Across Kalamazoo, programs that help children deal with trauma have waiting lists. Trauma and ongoing toxic stress interferes with a child’s ability to pay attention, complete tasks, and learn new skills, which adversely affects their social and emotional well-being.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience demonstrate that repeated childhood trauma (or adverse childhood experiences) can disrupt brain development and effect changes both at the biological and psychological level.

In more heartening news, however, a study from Frontiers in Psychology reports that “The directed use of music and music therapy is highly effective in developing coping strategies, including understanding and expressing feelings of anxiety and helplessness, supporting feelings of self-confidence and security, and providing a safe or neutral environment for relaxation.” In this manner, music heals and helps individuals reach their wellness goals. Over the past decade, music therapy has emerged as a creative art form that has been used to address stress and coping with survivors of trauma. And the American Music Therapy Association identifies some of the benefits of music therapy treatment in cases of traumatic incidents, which include anxiety and stress reduction, positive changes in mood and emotional states, enhanced feelings of control, confidence, and empowerment. Engaging creatively with music can also lead to positive physiological changes, such as lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, relaxed muscle tension, and improved emotional intimacy with peers, families, and caregivers.

Through our partnership with the YWCA, the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp will offer opportunities to engage in art and music in ways that are specifically designed for trauma mitigation. Children will make drums to take home, which will help them alleviate aggression in a healthy manner. They will sing songs together, helping them understand their importance in a community of voices. They will learn breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that they can take with them after camp ends. They will create art and be encouraged to trust their creative impulses. And they will learn history lessons about people from around the globe who have known difficult times and have used music to not only survive, but to thrive. Additionally, we will set up “comfort spaces” in each educational area – spaces where children can recede to feel safer without having to leave the learning site altogether – and the YWCA will offer training to all staff and volunteers to prepare us for the work of facilitating education for those who have faced trauma.

These new measures will allow us to expand access to our rich and meaningful camp. Moreover, including kids who are living in poverty and with trauma will benefit children with more stable and secure home lives as well. Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia write that “students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” Additionally, researchers out of Queens University, Charlotte assert that “Diversity among students in education directly impacts their performance. Studies show that students work better in a diverse environment, enabling them to concentrate and push themselves further when there are people of other backgrounds working alongside them. This promotes creativity, as well as better education, as those with differing viewpoints are able to collaborate to create solutions.”

Our collaboration with the YWCA has helped us meet the needs of low-income families by creating trust for our program with mothers in-residence at the shelter; helping us to plan and implement full-day wraparound care to make for A FULL WEEK of free childcare and no mid-day pick-up and drop-off needs; and offering transportation for YWCA folks to and from St. Luke’s. The YWCA is donating the trauma-mitigation training sessions, and lending us two full-time, experienced staffers for the week.

The biggest hurtle we therefore now face is expense. In the past, music camp has been free of charge to all children. However, running the camp was not free. Donations were used to purchase instruments, musical resources, art supplies, and snacks; to hire an accompanist and several guest lecturers; to provide T-shirts for all children and team leaders; and to host an end-of-program ice-cream social. This year, our proposed expansion in numbers and collaboration with the YWCA led to the decision to ask for a fee of $125 per child for families for whom this is not a burden.

This is low compared to the average summer camp in Kalamazoo. Additionally, families can take advantage of the wrap-around care and lunch, easing or eliminating childcare costs for the week. Finally, scholarships are available to anyone who desires to attend but cannot afford the suggested fee. Our camp is a space where children grow intellectually, artistically, musically, emotionally, and socially. We want all of the children of Kalamazoo to know that they deserve such a rich education. We could make this happen this year if only 50% of families were able to pay, and if we continued to secure the generous level of donations from the congregation that we have in the past.

We have additionally applied for two grants: one from the Gilmore Foundation and one from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Through that process, we learned that the ability to demonstrate strong internal funding support is necessary for securing grants, which is another reason we’re asking for a fee from those who can afford one, as a fee this year will make grants more likely next year. We anticipate that grants will eventually be our main source of funding.

Funding this camp will allow us to practice “spirituality in action.” Music Camp offers a one-of-a-kind ministry to community children and benefits Kalamazoo-area parents, who can take advantage of our wrap-around care. Our parish kids will get an even richer educational experience because of the diversity of their fellow campers. And it makes it possible for us to restore and deepen into our rich parish history of offering music education to children.

Thank you for supporting us in this community endeavor. We remain, as ever, grateful to serve Kalamazoo alongside you.

Yours in Christ,
Renee & Carrie

A Letter to the Women of St. Luke’s

Dear women of St. Luke’s,

In my time in this parish, I have been privileged to witness the strength of the women who call this place home. We are courageous, communal, generous, nurturing, and invested. We serve with a willingness that is startling to behold. I trust that you all have generations’ worth of stories to tell: stories about St. Luke’s women who have offered wisdom and insight; who have nurtured, fed, and healed you; who have listened and offered a steadying voice or hand. I already have more such stories than I can number. When I think about what our community of women is teaching our children – about grace, about relationships, about what it means to follow Christ – I am especially grateful.

But we are stretched thin. Our obligations can be demanding. We come together to be fed by the liturgy each week, but we may not always have time for other practices that nurture us or offer space for restoration.

Becky Clore and I have been working together to discern a way that we might more intentionally celebrate the sacred, multigenerational community we share in one another. We want also to address the fact that women’s own needs often go unmet. In the spirit of Christ – healer, listener, nurturer – we feel called to gather in a multigenerational sisterhood.

We are therefore thrilled to introduce a reimagine ministry: the St. Luke’s Women’s Group. As our first act, we want to offer some rest and restoration. Therefore, we invite the women of St. Luke’s to gather with us for an overnight retreat at Transformations Spirituality Center from the morning of Saturday, April 22nd through the afternoon of Sunday, April 23rd. As a community of women, we will be nurtured together, sharing as we feel called in periods of silence, leisurely fellowship, meditative walks, the breaking of bread, communal prayer, and worship.

Joan Chittister writes:

It is women’s experience of God that this world lacks. A world that does not nurture its weakest, does not know God the birthing mother. A world that does not preserve the planet, does not know God the creator. A world that does not honor the spirit of compassion, does not know God the spirit.

In celebration of the holy and vital work that falls to us as women of God, please mark your calendars for the weekend of April 22nd and 23rd. Please watch for more information on both the retreat and the women’s group in the weeks ahead. And please see me or Becky with questions, concerns, expressions of interest, creative offerings, or stories that bear witness to the work, fellowship, and history of the women of St. Luke’s.

Yours with love, in Christ,
Renee Maria Lee-Gardner

St. Luke’s Youth Program Year 2016-2017

We officially have a structure for this year’s youth program! Our particular size and demographics have required creative and communal thinking, but we love where we’ve landed. This new structure will allow us to focus on our St. Luke’s youth values of scripture, service, and solidarity in ways that are especially suited to our youth, our parish, and our vision of “spirituality in action.” Here’s a glance at what we’ll do.

Scripture: Instead of holding separate Bible study classes, our youth are committed to investing deeply in the lectionary readings each week, and to participating in an online forum – hosted by our youth leadership team – to respond in community to a question or prompt. The question each week will come directly from that Sunday’s readings, the homily, and an understanding of the issues faced by teens in contemporary culture. Our youth will respond not just directly to the prompt, but to one another in conversation. With their permission, I will share a few of these discussions throughout the year, so watch for that!

Solidarity: We will also gather regularly in person in two ways. First, the youth will meet during Forum Hour on the first and third Sunday of every month. These occasions will be informal, allowing them space to play, talk, and slow down together; for older youth to offer guidance to younger youth; and for their understanding of themselves as a fellowship to deepen. This largely unstructured time feels especially important in a culture that asks so much of our young people. Additionally, we’re in the process of planning five to six Youth Group Recreation Nights to fall throughout the program year. These nights will include playful and bonding activities, and will offer opportunities for youth members to invite friends and siblings into the fold. We trust that these will prove to be joyful and connective endeavors for youth and youth parents alike.

Service: Finally, we know that young adults tend to maintain the religious practices that fed them as children if, as children, they understood themselves as a vital part of their parish at large. To this end, youth members will take a spiritual gifts survey on November 20th (during the Stewardship Brunch). After we’ve explored the gifts those surveys unearth, we’ll invite the leads of various ministries to come speak with the youth on December 4th: to explain their ministry’s purpose and to outline what gifts might particularly lend themselves to each group’s needs. Ministry leads will then work in concert with youth and youth parents to forge connections for year-long volunteer engagement. This will, of course, both benefit the church and allow our youth to understand their vital role in our community.

And of course we’ll be fundraising for next summer’s pilgrimage – with a likely return of last year’s Youth Work Days – so feel free to save us some home improvement projects!

Finally, if you find yourself interested in this growing and fulfilling ministry, please let us know. We would love to offer your experience, wisdom, and guidance to these dynamic young parishioners.

An Invitation to Rest

On the Question of Rest:

A thing that has been said to me is that I’m not great at relaxation. And it’s something that worries me because: I believe in rest. I’m not interested in more-is-more life, or parenting, or work. And I’m for sure not interested in busier-is-better spirituality. The people I most admire move more slowly than that. They make more space.

But I don’t move slowly. At least not on the surface. On the surface, I’m not great at relaxation.

I tried to tackle the problem by imagining a way out of some of the work in which I engage. But the truth is, I engage in it because it feels worth doing. And I imagine that’s true for most of us. How I parent. How I labor. What I cook. The walks I like to take and the books I like to read. It’s all important to me. More important than the indulgence I’m supposed to want.

And yet I’m tired. Most of the time. Part of this is because I’m a parent of young children and – ask any of us – tired is a thing. I’m also lucky enough to have deeply fulfilling work, which has the gratifying if exhausting consequence of meaning I long to do more. I stay up late at night because doing more brings me joy. And so: tired.

But I’ve been offering space lately to this question: how might I meet my need for more rest without giving up any of the beloved endeavors to which I offer myself? Without ceding to the notion that I’d be somehow more whole if I binge watched episodes of Orange is the New Black instead of reading theology and listening to sermons once the kids go to bed.

And so I’ve turned to an old practice. Like, Genesis-old. I’m far from alone in this return, of course, though what I see of this practice being practiced is scattered. And it is by all accounts countercultural in contemporary America. So:

The Invitation:

This isn’t a post that extols the virtues of a long-held practice of Sabbath-keeping, though plenty of those exist. It isn’t a summary of the scriptural origins of the practice, though do read those because there’s immense wisdom in what our desert mothers and fathers had to say on the subject. And it isn’t a deep-dive into the theology behind Sabbath-keeping, though Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a pretty gorgeous one of those, if you’d like to read alongside me. Instead, this is an invitation. Because like many of us, I work best in community. And because I’m guessing that lots of you wish you knew how to slow down too. I’m not alone in needing more rest, and I’m not alone in being unsure how to get it.

So (the Tiniest Little Bit) About Sabbath:

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori teaches here that “Sabbath can be an opportunity to learn more deeply what God asks of each of us — loving our neighbors, each one made in God’s image, as we love ourselves.” And she asks: “How and where will you find time for Sabbath that will stretch and deepen your mind and heart?”

Jane Carol Redmont describes Sabbath keeping as “a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy.” But Redmont also writes about how hard it is to get students even to experiment with the practice. I met with such resistance when I tried to get students to do media blackouts: to unplug for forty-eight hours. Lord have mercy; they found even the suggestion traumatic.

Rabbi Heschel writes what is, perhaps, my favorite recommendation. He says, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement….to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And then there’s also this:

Sabbath-Keeping as Protest:

Author Stephen W. Smith writes that “when practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.”

It was in talking this through with my wife that the reasons for our cultural resistance to true rest became clearer to me. We’re offered ways to buy rest: television, movies, dessert, alcohol, amusement parks, vacations, prepared food brought to our table. And don’t get me wrong: aside from amusement parks, I dig these things. But really, most of those forms of rest are stimulating, right? They might bring pleasure; they’re surely entertaining; and they offer a passive form of indulgence – maybe even luxury – that might pass for rest. But they aren’t likely to bring us stillness, a sense of enough, or gratitude for what is and not what can be made to be.

Heschel writes: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” It seems to me that real rest is a form of celebration. And it doesn’t make anyone money. There’s nothing there to market to us, which is probably why we’re culturally discouraged from making space for it. There’s nothing to sell because rest, celebration, means enough. It means more than enough.

Our First Sabbath:

So this week, for the first time, my family kept a sort of Sabbath, which consisted among more nuanced shifts of a commitment to abstain from all internet/media activities. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (because church work means I can’t keep Sabbath on Sundays), we put the devices away. We played music from neglected CDs on our old player in the kitchen (instead of our carefully curated playlists on Spotify). That first night, when the kids were sleeping and the chores were done and it was only 9:30pm, I settled in our old glider and read almost fifty pages of a novel in a dark house with no glowing screens. And then I prayed for longer. And then I slept.

The next morning, we went to the farmer’s market, and I didn’t take pictures of my kids’ faces when I said they could have the freshly fried donuts they smelled from the other side of the market. I didn’t take pictures when they saw red sunflowers or tasted the most perfect yellow tomatoes on earth.

When we got home, I cooked lunch slowly, enjoying the sound of the boys playing outside, and the feel of my cool kitchen, and the indulgence of good food. We invited friends over spontaneously, and watched the kids get wet and muddy. I paid a little more mind to my breath, to my posture. I paid a little more mind to my wife. I worked (cooking, parenting, sweeping the floor), but more slowly, with intentionality and joy. I took pleasure even in washing dishes. I worried less about how long bedtime would take. There’s no evidence, but I think I smiled more.

I’m in, at least for the year. At least until next August, some version of this will be our lives from Fridays at sundown through Saturday nights. I’m already looking forward to next week. If you think you might join us, will you let me know? I’d love insight into what you’re reading, or how you’ve kept this spiritual practice in the past, or how your family practiced it growing up. I’d love to know how it works for you now. Even in this new, fumbling stage, I am grateful to be on this road, and I would be thrilled to have company.

storytelling

As is always true following devastating acts of violence, these past days have brought questions about how and when to talk with children. When do we introduce them to the knowledge that trauma on this scale exists? When do we pull back the curtain and let them see more suffering than they are required to see in their own lives and worlds? In the case of this week’s tragedy – the destruction of lives in a gay nightclub in Orlando – this question is especially fraught for queer families, who have to ask when and how to tell their children that Omar Mateen wanted to destroy people like their parents. Families like their family.

I don’t have an answer for the question of when to have these talks, and God knows I don’t know how. As I write this, my four-year-old is napping on the sofa next to me. It feels like violence even to imagine telling him that people were shot to death for being like his parents.

But what I do know is that those conversations – the ones about gunmen and body counts and hatred – aren’t the only ones we need to think about with great care.

We are all of us storytellers. Whether we think of ourselves that way or not: we tell stories. And the stories we tell have enormous influence over how we, and our children, and those around us think and behave and practice living.

When a couple in rural Ohio – seeing a bumper sticker on our car that identified us as gay – tried to run my family off the side of a mountain in 2009, they were reacting to any number of stories they’d heard about gay people and the danger we pose. They were reacting to those stories, and not at all to us as humans. Those stories promote violence.

When we tell stories that make us fear our trans brothers and sisters, or followers of other faith traditions, we’re at risk of promoting violence. When we tell stories that insist upon a rigid and narrow understanding of identity, people learn tragic and untrue things about themselves and those around them. For countless humans, stories like these aren’t just stories: they’re death sentences. And even when we’re careful not to tell these stories ourselves, our children hear them elsewhere. So we have to do more than stay silent. We have to tell other stories, different stories. Stories that seek not to shut down questions, but to open them up. That seek not to control mystery, but to illuminate it. Stories that articulate both our humanity and our divinity.

As Christians, we have rich tools with which to do that work.

We have scripture: the stories of our desert fathers and mothers. The stories of Jesus Christ, who told stories to teach us to love God and our neighbor, “on [which] two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

We have liturgy: space and time for ritual and attention; for Word, song, movement, and sound; for the community of saints and a wide-open table.

We have the liturgical year, which grants us blessed space to move safely through the most inescapable of human states and emotions: surrender, longing, vulnerability, elation, disbelief, cynicism, trust, terror, desperation, devastation, grief, sorrow, loneliness, triumph, fear, grace, compassion, gratitude, reverence, and love.

And we have responsibilities articulated for us in the Book of Common Prayer, and by us at our own baptism and throughout our lives. That we will “renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” That we will “put our whole trust in [Jesus’s] grace and love” (which is to say in ways of being that bring forth grace and love). That we will “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [our]self.” That we will “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

We are fed spiritually such that we might go forth and serve God’s fragile world. One of the ways we do that is by telling stories. And we have the right stories to tell. Millennia-old stories. Stories of love, grace, and resurrection. Of miraculous birth, mystery, and life following death. Of radical inclusion, rejected dominance, and subverted paradigms.

We are storytellers with some of the world’s oldest and richest stories at the ready. And we live in a world that needs to hear more of them.